Exclusive: Florida Fascism Grows With Unilateral Book Ban in County
Ron DeSantis's school crackdown sets up further abuses
Welcome to a Tuesday morning edition of Progress Report.
I’ll cut to the chase: We’ve got some news to break the morning, so we’ll skip the long introduction. Keep your eyes open for a follow-up email with updates later today.
by Jen Cousins and Jordan Zakarin
The Free State of Florida will likely slide further into autocracy on Tuesday morning.
According to a memo sent to principals and media specialists across northern St. John’s County, schools superintendent Tim Forson will a present a list of books that have been banned from all school and classroom libraries.
The list of freshly banned books will be posted on district and school websites by 9:30 am EST, at which point educators are responsible for making the titles unavailable to students. While new state law calls for a media specialist employed by a district to vet books, Forson is bypassing that process and taking it upon himself to unilaterally decide the fate of an undisclosed number of books.
In May, St. John’s County’s Board of Education voted narrowly to keep a list of seven books that had been challenged by conservative parents and other odd members of the community.
The board’s knees buckled a bit in August, when a committee voted to keep another eight titles while placing strict limits on their availability. Those titles included Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the modern YA classic The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and This Book Is Anti-Racist, a #1 New York Times BestSeller. Forson’s role then was to accept the panel’s recommendations, not make the decisions himself.
This fall, the Florida Board of Education added harsh consequences for any teacher or librarian that was found to be making a banned book available to students, upping the ante and fostering a deep fear among educators.
The penalties, as first reported by Progress Report, included both termination and the revocation of a teachers’s license, which would essentially ban someone from teaching again in Florida. The Board of Education’s training module included threats of felony charges and prison time to any teacher that did not comply with the rulings.
As we reported last month, teachers in Manatee County were ordered to clear their shelves of books by school administrators, pending a full review of all titles. The same drill took place in St. John’s County, as the photo below indicates:
DeSantis has focused relentlessly on attacking the Florida public education system. Through his “Stop WOKE” act, he has sought to ban any lesson that runs counter to the worldview of a middle-aged conservative white man, while the “Don’t Say Gay” law seeks to abolish the mere acknowledgment of the LGBTQ+ community.
The far-right presidential hopeful has also sought to sap the resources of both public schools and teachers unions. In 2021, he signed a large expansion of the state’s school voucher program, which sends hundreds of millions of dollars to janky for-profit charters and religious private schools. In 2020, $326 million in state money went toward private schools; three years later, it’s due to surpass $1.3 billion.
A new bill, introduced last month, would extend vouchers and scholarships to ultra-wealthy families in the state.
More recently, he’s trained his sights on teachers unions by pushing legislation that would sap their funding. With weaker teachers unions, local government can pay lower salaries and run roughshod over teachers that object to policies like book bans and the erasure of minorities.
What Can You Do?
Concerned citizens are encouraged to tune into the St. John’s County education meeting on Tuesday morning at 9am morning to watch Forson’s presentation. They’re also urged to call in and email the board members to protect self selected reading for the public school students of St. John’s County.
District phone number: 904-547-7500
Email the board:
Jen Cousins is the co-founder of the Florida Freedom to Read Project, a grassroots organization fighting back against the GOP’s assault on public schools and personal freedom.
Wait, Before You Leave!
Progress Report has raised over $7 million dollars for progressive candidates and causes, breaks national stories about corrupt politicians, delivers incisive analysis, and continues to grow its paid reporting team. Yes, we pay everyone.
None of the money we’ve raised for candidates and causes goes to producing this newsletter or all of the related projects we put out. In fact, it costs me money to do this. So to make this sustainable, hire new writers, and expand, I need your help.
For just $5 a month, you can buy a premium subscription that includes:
Premium member-only newsletters with original reporting
Exclusive access to weekly member chats
Financing new projects and paying new reporters
You can also make a one-time donation to Progress Report’s GoFundMe campaign — doing so will earn you a shout-out in an upcoming edition of the big newsletter!